(Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, AP)
(USA Today) -- They say these things come in threes.
Already facing criticism over the Benghazi attack and Internal Revenue Service problems, President Obama and aides must now deal with news that the Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of journalists who work for the Associated Press.
Obama has no public events scheduled for Tuesday, but the AP investigation will no doubt be added to the list of questions for press secretary Jay Carney at his mid-day briefing.
The Associated Press denounced the Justice Department's seizure of phone records -- apparently part of an investigation into national security leaks -- as a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into news gathering protected by the First Amendment.
Obama and aides have described congressional Republicans' investigation into the Sept. 11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, as "a sideshow." They have condemned the IRS admission that certain conservative groups were targeted for review of their tax-exempt status, and vowed to support a full investigation.
As for the AP probe, Carney referred questions to the Justice Department.
"Other than press reports, we have no knowledge of any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone records of the AP," Carney said. "We are not involved in decisions made in connection with criminal investigations, as those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department."
Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, are seeking to tie the three incidents together.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., who as chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has held Benghazi hearings and pledged to examine the IRS, called news of the Associated Press investigation "obviously disturbing."
Said Issa: "Americans should take notice that top Obama Administration officials increasingly see themselves as above the law and emboldened by the belief that they don't have to answer to anyone. I will work with my fellow House Chairmen on an appropriate response to Obama Administration officials."
The Associated Press itself reported:
"Rules published by the Justice Department require that subpoenas of records of news organizations must be personally approved by the attorney general (Eric Holder), but it was not known if that happened in this case. The letter notifying AP that its phone records had been obtained through subpoenas was sent Friday by Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney in Washington.
"William Miller, a spokesman for Machen, said Monday that in general the U.S. attorney follows 'all applicable laws, federal regulations and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations.' But he would not address questions about the specifics of the AP records. 'We do not comment on ongoing criminal investigations,' Miller said in an email."
The AP also reported that the government would not say why it sought the phone records:
"Officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have provided information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot. The story disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaeda plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.
"In testimony in February, CIA Director John Brennan noted that the FBI had questioned him about whether he was AP's source, which he denied. He called the release of the information to the media about the terror plot an 'unauthorized and dangerous disclosure of classified information.'"
Attached: Media Coalition letter on the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press to the Attorney General subpoenas of the AP. The letter was co-signed by Gannett.